Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mules and Marauders

My niece and sister sent this link to me the other day. It is an obituary for the grandparent of one of my niece’s friends. This line caught my eye:

[Mr.] Max [Howard Medert] was a WWII Army veteran who proudly served as one of “Merrill’s Marauders” in China, Burma and India. Following his military career, he served on the city of Atlanta Police Force , retiring after 25 years of service.

Now, just the fact that Mr. Medert had 25 years of service with the Atlanta Police Force is commendable, but he also was a member of Merrill’s Marauders in China, Burma and India.


What? You don’t know about Merrill’s Marauders?

I’m not surprised. You see, the China-India-Burma theater of war during World War II is basically forgotten by the history books mainly because it did not follow the standard American command structure, but it is key in studying the push toward VJ Day and in realizing some of the roots of today’s modern army.

It was during their Quebec meeting in August, 1943 when President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill decided there needed to be long range penetration groups that could infiltrate Japanese held territory.

President Roosevelt called for volunteers who were willing to take part in “dangerous and hazardous“ duty. The result was over 3,000 volunteers from across the military population…..some already battle hardened, some with no battle experience whatsoever, and even soldiers from the stockades turned in their “get out of jail” free card to become a member of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), code name Galahad aka Merrill’s Marauder’s after their leader Brigadier General Frank Merrill.

The Marauders trained in India before beginning a 750 mile march through the harsh jungles of Burma. The soldiers formed three battalions in six combat teams known by their colors – red, white blue, khaki, green, and orange. Their mission was to destroy Japanese supply lines and communication and to re-open the Burma Road. They engaged the Japanese at least thirty-two times and covered more jungle terrain than any other U.S. Army formation. They did this with no tank and no artillery support. All other supplies were carried by the men themselves or they received along the trail in air drops.

During the march the Marauders endured forced marches through monsoon season, hunger, malnutrition, amoebic dysentery, malaria, fever, snake bites, scrub typhus, and fungal skin disease. According to Colonel Charles N. Hunter in his book Galahad, of the 2,750 men who entered Burma only two were left alive who had NEVER been hospitalized with wounds or major illnesses.

Since the soldiers would be traversing heavy terrain they were not able to utilize mechanized vehicles so pack mules were employed to carry the heavy loads of radios, ammunition, and heavier support weapons. Over 360 pack mules were used and training commenced in India before the men began their arduous journey. Usually the pack mules would be “debrayed” for service so as not to alert the enemy of their presence, but Charles N. Hunter elected NOT to “debray” the Marauder mules stating it was one of the few pleasures a mule had……in making their distinctive noise and later advised there was never really an issue of the mules giving away their location in the jungle.

Mules weren’t the only animals used for transport. When a ship carrying some of the mules was lost in the Arabian Sea over 300 Waler Horses were brought in as well.

This Time Magazine article from August 7, 1944 relates:

Once, at Walawbum, when a Marauder unit was confronted by an overwhelming enemy force, the mules set up such a clamor that the Japs thought they must be outnumbered and withdrew……

The one fright the mules never got used to was the sight of an elephant. The fright was mutual. When elephant met mule there was pandemonium—trumpeting and braying, sometimes a hysterical stampede….

It took them four months to cover the 700 miles of pestilential jungle, but they made it. Last week many of the mules were still there in the interior of Burma, shuttling supplies around in the battle for Myitkyina. They will probably never bray in Missouri again. When the northern Burma campaign is finished, they will be turned over to the Chinese. Some day they may plod on east over the Burma Road into China.

The Hollywood film, Merrill’s Marauders, starring Jeff Chandler tells of some of the exploits. In fact, General Merrill’s atache in the film is played by Vaughn Wilson aka Lt. Colonel Samuel Vaughn Wilson an actual member of Merrill’s Marauders and the film’s technical advisor. The movie trailer can be seen here with Lt. Colonel Wilson narrating.

I think a mention of the Marauders is necessary with any decent coverage of World War II in the classroom, and I would devote at least one entire lesson to the topic. The movie I’ve published below is an excellent classroom resource, however, at 25 minutes I would show the clip whole group, and stop the video after each segment to discuss and make points of emphasis for students. The video is actual footage and is from the National Archives and Records Administration. The first few moments just show a camera image….keep it rolling.

Today’s modern 75th Ranger Regiment can trace its very beginnings to Merrill’s Marauders. In fact, the patch worn proudly by U.S. Rangers today incorporated the colors of the six fighting groups of the Marauders.

Thank you to Mr. Medert and to all of the other Marauders for their proud and valiant service.

Here are some other links for more information regarding Merrill’s Mauraders:

Stories from the Veteran’s History Project

Merrill’s Marauders Association Page

National World War II Museum Exhibit


I never thought of myself said...

Oh Lisa! This is just wonderful and I know Max Medert's family will be honored. I had the priviledge of sitting next to Mr. Medert and his lovely wife during one of the ceremonies for their grandson, Kevin's graduation from the Citadel. So...mething about Mr. Medert's manner reminded me so much of our own father. He literally oozed our "Daddy-isms" and interesting stories and I encouraged them, one right after the other. Mr. Medert had the most lovely carved cane and we struck up a conversation about it. I expressed my interest in canes since Daddy had a vast collection. Interestingly enough, it seemed Mr. Medert made these canes from wood he had acquired from somewhere far away. He made canes and gave them to people he deemed 'worthy' of his work. I remember laughing about that with him. Later that year he sent one to me with the message 'for your Daddy". Lisa, thanks again for this post. I'm sure you will hear from Kevin.See More

Rick said...

Great piece Lisa. I am fortunate to have met about 25 of the survivors of this wonderful group of men at the Ashville Hilton some 15 years ago. Had zero idea who they were until about 2 weeks later when I saw the movie. My appreciation grew-these were exceptional men who went into this knowing they had less than 50% survival rate. Amazing story. Thanks for sharing.

Georgia Road Geek said...

In the mountains outside Dahlonega, the U.S. Army's Ranger mountain training school is Camp Frank D. Merrill.

EHT said...

Thanks for the comments....I enjoyed learning about this fantastic group of Patriots myself. Amazing!!!!!

nisha said...

I love the way you post your thoughts - amazing.

John said...

This is indeed interesting, but if you only know about Merrill's Marauders you don't really know about the Burma theater in WWII. Check out the British Empire's 14th Army. aka "The Forgotten Army".

desertplanet said...

Wow! This is the very first time I have seen an article about the mules! My grandad, Cecil Leo Cox, was a private that helped take care of the mules, too! What a great bunch of men!